Preaching vs practising

Written by John Jory

If the words of your instructor don’t match their actions on the mat — or off it — it might be time to rethink your place in their dojo.

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Is your instructor a role model worth modelling?

As a doctor, one thing I’ve observed over my time as a martial artist is the number of overweight martial arts instructors. They have always been present, but the number seems to be rising rapidly.

I know we live in a world where it’s politically incorrect to speak openly on such things, but somebody has to say it. The sight of a fat instructor says two things — he/she eats too much; and/or, he/she doesn’t train very hard.

How can we expect our students to flourish if their role model is not a living example of what they are training to be?

While obesity is the most obvious example of this counter-productive double standard, there are several other areas where an instructor’s integrity is often compromised. Physically, there are fitness and nutrition; on the personal side, things like honesty, morality and openness.

Let’s look at each aspect:


As I mentioned above, an instructor who does not lead the warm-up and participate actively in the classes is suspect. The message he/she is transmitting isn’t ‘train hard and you will develop physically and mentally as part of your lifelong commitment.’ It is ‘put up with being driven by a lazy, arrogant slacker and then you, too, can become a lazy, arrogant slacker.’

This doesn’t mean an instructor needs to be at peak fitness until he drops from the perch, only that he should be at least fit enough to participate fully in an average class.


An instructor needs to be a visible example of dietary moderation. Once again, he/she doesn’t need to be a vegan teetotaller, but he/she does need to show the students that he/she has enough self-respect to be in good shape.


There are various types of honesty, and an instructor needs to be an example in all of them:

Monetary honesty – If the instructor is part of a larger group or of a non-profit club, he must be scrupulously accountable with the money and not purloin it at will for his own use.

Honesty with services – There is nothing shameful about an instructor making a decent living from his students. I have, however, seen schools that run competitions, camps, workshops, gradings and such with greater frequency than seems necessary while exerting intense pressure on the students to fork out and participate in them all.

Honesty with art – I pass the school of a grappling art from time to time. In its window is a sign: ‘Ideal Self-Defence for Women and Children.’ While it might be a reasonable self-defence for an adult male against one opponent, to say that it is ‘ideal’ for women and children to fight off an adult male is just plain wrong (speaking as a judoka since childhood). I presume that the instructor is deluded rather than fraudulent, but the point is that the statement is dishonest.

Honesty towards students’ services – Many instructors demand that students provide their professional services free of charge. For example, carpenters, plumbers and mechanics are expected to provide their services (both to the school and the instructor’s home) free as part of their commitment to the art. If the instructor charges these students full fees but expects privileged treatment in return, this is an immoral exploitation.


Many years ago I was one of a group of instructors (all male) having dinner with a world-renowned martial artist who was visiting Australia to teach workshops. Once everybody relaxed, the various participants started swapping stories of their sexual conquests, almost all which were examples of blatant exploitation of the instructor’s power over the student.

Over the years I have seen quite a few healthy relationships and marriages form between members of martial arts groups — relationships that have formed between two equal adults. The difference is self-evident.


Yip Man, the founder of Wing Chun, was once questioned about the secrets of his art. He replied, “The only secret is regular training.”

Many instructors deliberately foster legends about secret techniques in order to appear more powerful. Some even allow their students to repeat ineffective techniques in their early days so that they can admit them to the inner sanctum of secret knowledge when they have proved their loyalty over many years.

Then there are instructors who forbid their students to cross-train in other martial arts and won’t allow non-members to view their classes. Incredibly, these are often the instructors whose students invariably get slaughtered in a real fight.

Lack of openness often hides a lack of integrity.

In summary, if you live the life you demand of your students, you can’t go far

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